This time of the year a great race takes place in the wilderness of rural Alaska - Iditarod Trail Invitational
So you might be asking yourself what does this have to do with racing mountain bikes? Take a look at the above photo and you will see a line of "fatbikes" just starting the race.
Now here is a photo of my Salsa Mukluk that I took yesterday at Sprague Brook Park after I did some cross country skiing and then took the bike out for a spin around the park. The cross country loop was in great condition and the hiking/biking trail was very good also for the bike so I headed off on that for a loop as well.
I am not going to compare my endeavour yesterday with what those racers are facing in the wilds of Alaska this coming week. Most will do 350 miles and then some will continue on and do the full distance of 1000 miles to Nome, Alaska. Now you might be thinking to yourself 350 miles on snow would not be too difficult by the looks of the above picture and if those conditions were like that the whole time then you would be right. The thing is, many times new snow falls and if you have ever tried to ride your bike in fresh snow you will know those racers are in for a long slow walk!
I posted some information about the Arrowhead 135 earlier this month and that ended up being a survival test of the racer's will more because of the amount of walking required.
Here is some information from the Iditarod web page:
What this race is all aboutIt was in Rohn as our trail breaker in 2007 I had the good fortune to meet Joe May one of the legends and winner of the early Iditarod Sled Dog Races. The history lesson for all of us at the Rohn cabin that night cannot be bought or read in books. The stories of dog races in the early days told with a lot of humor fascinated us and kept us laughing. The more I listened the better I felt about the philosophy of the Iditarod Trail Invitational.
When Alaska Ultra Sport was formed in 2002 with the input of several veteran racers we all agreed support should be kept to a minimum. Winning or even finishing in the extremes of Alaskan winter weather depends on how comfortable the racers are with their abilities, level of experience and amount of risk they are willing to take. We differ from other races in that we allow racers to make these decisions for themselves about what to carry, when to rest and when it is safe to travel. There is no designated or marked route only mandatory checkpoints racers must pass through. As a race organizer it would be much less stressful to have all the rules, restrictions and support offered in other races but as a racer I want to make and be responsible for my own decisions. We try to limit the amount of support to just what is necessary to prevent our race from imposing on lodges and other folks along the trail when things don’t go as planned. Words from a story told by Joe May say it best and I am paraphrasing, “Some times when you offer too much support you cheat the true adventurer out of a big part of why they are on the trail. They come to race, to confront and hopefully overcome what ever is thrown their way. To solve problems for them diminishes the experience.”
Listening to those stories from someone who experienced the early days of the Iditarod Trail made me sure I want to preserve this philosophy of adventure and experience for all who qualify and choose to participate in the Iditarod Trail Invitational. This race is not for everyone. A mistake at the wrong time and place in the Alaskan winter wilderness could cost you fingers and toes or even your life. At times the only possible rescue will be self rescue. For those who do not agree with this philosophy, expect marked trails and more support there are other races out there which will cater to your needs.
As you can see it is not always a bike race - it can come down to survival. These racers are hand picked by the race organizers and not even then are they guaranteed to finish.
If you would like to get some information on "fatbikes" stop by the shop and ask some questions. I have no problem bringing my Mukluk to the shop for test rides and would even meet you at Sprague Brook or Chestnut Ridge for you to see what it is like to ride the bike on snow and get a feel for the amount of work and variables that come into play with snow conditions and temperatures and the proper tire pressure for those conditions. It is not for everyone, but I can tell you it is a blast and falling in the snow is the least painful crash I have ever experienced ;)